Spotify Expands Video Offering With 12 Original Series

Collaborating With Russell Simmons, Tim Robbins

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Spotify is making 12 original series with the likes of actor Tim Robbins and Def Jam Records co-founder Russell Simmons, in a dramatic expansion of video offerings from the Swedish music-streaming service.

Spotify will unveil plans for its first slate of original shows Monday, a year after adding clips from the BBC and Comedy Central. Episodes of every program, which range from a few minutes to 15 minutes, will be available to free and paid Spotify users in the U.S., U.K., Germany and Sweden.

Having amassed an audience of 75 million users, Spotify is counting on video to bring in new customers and convince current ones to spend more time on the service, which offers more than 30 million songs on-demand. If those customers spend less time on rivals YouTube and Apple Music -- both of which offer video -- all the better.

"Music will always be most important, but our audience likes us and wants more from us," Tom Calderone, the company's content partnerships chief, said in an interview at Spotify's New York office in a conference room named after the legendary CBGB nightclub. "We have to figure out a second act, and I think it will come out of video. The idea is to make sure users know they can come here for something other than playlists."

Mr. Calderone joined Spotify in March, a few months removed from a 17-year career at Viacom, where he put pop stars Britney Spears and Justin Timberlake on the air and turned rappers Flavor Flav and Snoop Dogg into reality TV stars. Now he's trying to update what worked at Viacom for Spotify with a slate of programming that revolves around music -- be it live performance, history or broader pop cultural themes.

"Landmark" is a documentary series in which each episode tells the story of a significant moment in music history. The producers have shot two episodes so far, one about the Beach Boys album "Pet Sounds" and another about the band Metallica.

Russell Simmons's company All Def Digital is producing "Rush Hour," in which two hip-hop acts are driven to an undisclosed location to conceive a musical collaboration that they must perform before a crowd. In the pilot, shot at the South by Southwest Music Festival, the camera focuses on the crowd and the atmosphere without ever showing the stage.

Mr. Robbins, who won an Academy Award for his performance in "Mystic River," is producing a mockumentary series about a competition to become the next dance music phenom.

All of the programs fit into phase one of Mr. Calderone's programming strategy, which is all about music. To complement the slate of series, Spotify is also talking to artists about ways of collaborating on video in conjunction with upcoming albums.

In phase two, Spotify will create comedy and animation series tailored to the service's young audience. Mr. Calderone will travel to Los Angeles and London in the coming weeks to discuss Spotify's plans with potential partners.

While Mr. Calderone has plenty of experience making shows people watch, Spotify has little experience getting people to watch much of anything. Videos are buried in the current version of the app, "down there with how to unsubscribe and the privacy policy," Mr. Calderone joked.

YouTube has an edge on every other music service when it comes to video. It attracts more than 1 billion users with its vast library of TV clips, pranks, music and cat videos.

"It will be our job to make this stuff famous," Mr. Calderone said. "We have a ways to go."

One of his old bosses is eager to help. Van Toffler ran MTV, VH1 and CMT before leaving last year to form Gunpowder & Sky, a production company. Like Mr. Calderone, whom he affectionately called his "illegitimate son," Mr. Toffler left cable for the more experimental world of online media.

For Spotify, Gunpowder & Sky will produce "Drawn & Recorded," an animated series in which each episode focuses on a particular artist or moment in history. Grammy-winning producer T-Bone Burnett will narrate.

One episode recalls when Elvis Presley traveled through the Washington ghetto in full regalia, learning about roots music, while another tells the story of Blind Willie Johnson, a blues player.

Mr. Toffler hopes to make hundreds of different episodes, one of several projects he is discussing with music services that want to help their fans explore music and discover new acts.

Services like Spotify "need to be more than a library of music," Mr. Toffler said. "What we did at MTV was create genre shows, unique performance shows and narratives behind the music -- literally 'Behind the Music.' This is a blueprint."

-- Bloomberg News

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